The Art of Statistics Book Summary - The Art of Statistics Book explained in key points
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The Art of Statistics summary

David Spiegelhalter

Learning from Data

4.5 (266 ratings)
25 mins

Brief summary

"The Art of Statistics" by David Spiegelhalter is an accessible guide to understanding statistics and how they impact our daily lives. Filled with examples and anecdotes, it demystifies this often misunderstood field and gives readers the tools to think critically about data.

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    The Art of Statistics
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    Statistics can help us answer questions about the world.

    Have you ever wondered what statisticians actually do?

    To many, statistics is an esoteric branch of mathematics, only slightly more interesting than the others because it makes use of pictures.

    But today, the mathematical side of statistics is considered only one component of the discipline. Statistics deals with the entire lifecycle of data, which has five stages which can be summarized by the acronym PPDAC: Problem, Plan, Data, Analysis, and Conclusion. The job of a statistician is to identify a problem, design a plan to solve it, gather the relevant data, analyze it, and interpret an appropriate conclusion.

    Let’s illustrate how this process works by considering a real-life case that the author was once involved in: the case of the serial killer Harold Shipman.

    With 215 definite victims and 45 probable ones, Harold Shipman was the United Kingdom’s most prolific serial killer. Before his arrest in 1998, he used his position of authority as a doctor to murder many of his elderly patients. His modus operandi was to inject his patients with a lethal dose of morphine and then alter their medical records to make their deaths look natural.

    The author was on the task force set up by a public inquiry to determine whether Shipman’s murders could have been detected earlier. This constitutes the first stage of the investigative cycle – the problem.

    The next stage – the plan – was to collect information regarding the deaths of Shipman’s patients and compare this with information regarding other patient deaths in the area to see if there were any suspicious incongruities in the data.

    The third stage of the cycle – data – involves the actual process of collecting data. In this case, that meant examining hundreds of physical death certificates from 1977 onwards.

    In the fourth stage, the data was analyzed, entered into software, and compared using graphs. The analysis brought to light two things: First, Shipman’s practice recorded a much higher number of deaths than average for his area. Second, whereas patient deaths for other general practices were dispersed throughout the day, Shipman’s victims tended to die between 01:00 p.m. and 05:00 p.m. – precisely when Shipman undertook his home visits.

    The final stage is the conclusion. The author’s report concluded that if someone had been monitoring the data, Shipman’s activities could have been discovered as early as 1984 – 15 years earlier – which could have saved up to 175 lives.

    So, what do statisticians do? They look at patterns in data to solve real-world problems.

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    What is The Art of Statistics about?

    The Art of Statistics (2019) is a non-technical introduction to the basic concepts of statistical science. Sidelining abstract mathematical analyses in favor of a more human-oriented approach, it explains how statistical science is helping us to answer questions and tell more informative stories. Stepping beyond the numbers, it also considers the role that the media and psychological bias play in the distortion of statistical claims. In these blinks you’ll find the tools and knowledge needed to understand and evaluate these claims.

    The Art of Statistics Review

    The Art of Statistics (2019) by David Spiegelhalter is a fascinating exploration of the power and importance of statistics in our everyday lives. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • With its accessible explanations and real-life examples, it demystifies the world of statistics, making it relevant and applicable to everyone.
    • Spiegelhalter's engaging storytelling keeps readers captivated, illustrating how statistics contribute to important decisions in areas like healthcare, politics, and public policy.
    • The book provides practical tips and tools for interpreting statistics, empowering readers to make more informed choices and better understand the world around them.

    Best quote from The Art of Statistics

    Data does not speak for itself.

    —David Spiegelhalter
    example alt text

    Who should read The Art of Statistics?

    • Statistics students looking for a non-technical overview of basic issues
    • Journalists who want to report statistics more accurately
    • Anyone who wants to better evaluate the statistical claims they encounter day-to-day

    About the Author

    David Spiegelhalter is a British statistician and statistics communicator. One of the most cited and influential researchers in his field, he serves as the Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk in the Statistical Laboratory at the University of Cambridge. He was president of the Royal Statistical Society for 2017 and 2018.

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    The Art of Statistics FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Art of Statistics?

    The main message of The Art of Statistics is that statistics is essential for understanding and making sense of the world.

    How long does it take to read The Art of Statistics?

    The estimated reading time for The Art of Statistics is several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Art of Statistics a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Art of Statistics is worth reading because it provides valuable insights into the power and limitations of statistics, making it applicable to various fields and everyday life.

    Who is the author of The Art of Statistics?

    David Spiegelhalter is the author of The Art of Statistics.

    What to read after The Art of Statistics?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Art of Statistics, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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